A Step by Step Guide
So you have a great idea and are ready to build a food business that will take on the market. But how do you go about starting this business and remain in compliance? In this guide, we will take you through the requirements your business must meet to legally sell your products to customers. One point of note is that the content in this post is specific to Washington, DC, and each state has its own laws around what a food business must do to legally sell. If you are not located in Washington, DC, we recommend reaching out to your local health department for more information.
Step 1 - Obtain your DUNS Number
Your business must obtain a DUNS Number (Unique Facility Identifier) which is required to register with the FDA. The Dun & Bradstreet D-U-N-S® Number is a unique nine-digit identifier for businesses that is associated with a business’s Live Business Identity.
To obtain your DUN’s number you must go to Dun & Bradstreet website, to obtain your business DUNS Number. There is no cost to request and receive a DUNS number. It can take up to 30 days to obtain your DUNS Number. You can reach out to Alex Abramson at firstname.lastname@example.org to any questions about the process.
Step 2 - File Your FDA Registration Application
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the federal agency responsible for making sure consumers food and drugs are safe to consume. They do this by requiring all food businesses to follow specific food safety practices.
Your registration with the FDA is the first step in the process because information provided by the FDA, once you are registered, will be used throughout the rest of the process.
The registration application itself is in 12 parts. Much of the language is difficult to understand, but fortunately the FDA provides their step-by-step instructions on going through each portion of the application to make sure that you understand what they are asking for and that you can fill out the form appropriately. We highly suggest you reference this guide as you complete your registration!
Step 3 - Register your Business with the DC Government.
You must register your business with the DC government via CorpOnline. By registering, you are alerting the District of Columbia that you want to do business inside DC and that your business is in good standing.
Step 4 - File Your Foreign Registration Statement (If Not a Business Established in DC)
Foreign in this sense does not mean from outside the United States, but outside of Washington, DC. If you are a business that was established outside the District of Columbia, you will need to file a Foreign Registration Statement (FN-1) with the DC government to signify you are an entity the DC government recognizes as a legitimate business that can operate in the District.
Complete your FN-1 via CorpOnline.
Within the form, there are a few terms you’ll want to know before completing the application:
- Governor: List yourself (the business owner) as the authorized person/Governor
- Registered Agent: You are your own registered agent for Washington, D.C.
- Principal Address: This is your address in the state you formed your business
Part of your FN-1 Form will be to attach a Certificate of Good Standing from the state in which your business is registered that is not over 90 days old, (See Step 5 below).
Step 5 - Acquire Your Certificate of Good Standing
Just as it sounds, your Certificate of Good Standing signifies that you are in good standing with your incorporating state on things like documents filed, taxes, etc. The certificate is issued by the state in which you have established your food business. Each state has its own approach to requesting and obtaining a Certificate of Good Standing, so we advise a web search for “(Your State of Establishment) Certificate of Good Standing” to find the necessary steps. For our businesses who establish in Delaware, the government uses this page to facilitate requests for their Certificate of Good Standing.
Step 6 - Register with Internal Revenue Service
You must obtain your EIN (Employer Identification Number) from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). You can obtain your EIN online, in-person at 77 K Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002, or via telephone at (202) 803-9000.
Step 7 - Register with DC Office of Tax and Revenue
You must register your EIN with DC Dept of Tax and Revenue via Mytax.gov
Step 8 - Complete Your Sales and Use New Business Registration (FR-500)
By registering, you are filing to be an approved business that sells directly to consumers. Think of farmer’s markets, food trucks, or any other events where you are selling directly to the person that is consuming your food. You complete your Sales and Use (FR-500) via Mytax.gov
Step 9 - Fill out a Certificate of Resale
A certificate of resale, also known as a tax exemption certificate, is a document that allows a business to purchase goods without paying sales tax on goods that they will eventually sell to consumers.
Once your FR-500 registration has been processed, you need to fill out the Certificate of resale. It is used to prove to a supplier that your business is purchasing goods for resale and is not required to pay sales tax on the goods.
The certificate of Resale should be submitted to each supplier every time you purchase from. You want to ensure to submit the certificate proactively to avoid getting charged sales tax on a product you intend to resell.
To submit the Certificate of Resale you should:
- Get the Certificate of Resale form. You can usually get the form from the seller, the state government website, or a business registration website.
- Complete the form. Make sure you fill out all of the required fields and that the information is correct.
- Sign and date the form. The form must be signed by you or by an authorized representative of your business.
Submit the form to the seller. You can submit the form in person, by mail, or by fax.
Step 10 - Acquire Your Clean Hands Certificate
Similar to the Certificate of Good Standing, your next step is acquiring your Clean Hands Certificate from the DC government to acknowledge that you are in good standing with the District. The certification means you do not owe more than $100 to DC, and that your food business registration paperwork has been done accurately and completely. You complete this via MyTax.DC.gov.
Step 11 - Obtain Your Certificate of Liability Insurance
A Certificate of Liability Insurance (COI) is a simple form issued by your insurance company. It includes the types of coverage, the issuing insurance company, your policy number, the named insured, the policy’s effective dates, and the types and dollar amount of limits and deductibles.
The COI gives you certain minimal coverage: general liability insurance, workers compensation, and employee liability insurance. Both distributors and retailers require a COI in order to work with them. When choosing your coverage, you should cover up to $1,000,000 in Phase Two: Product Market Fit. When filling out your workers compensation, Union Kitchen should not be included as we are not working for your company. Please view our Supplier Directory Workbook to see our recommended insurance options.
Step 12 - Obtain Your Certified Food Protection Manager ID (CFPM)
Now that you’ve been recognized as a business in the District and they have certified that you are in good standing, it’s time to get into the more food-specific portions of licensing your food business. The first step is obtaining your Certified Food Protection Manager ID (CFPM). Your CFPM certifies that you are aware and will comply with food safety best practices and can manage teams to the same standard.
By using this link, you can register for a course and test online. Once you have completed the test and receive your ServSafe certificate saying you passed, you’ll then need to upload that certificate to the DC DOH Online Portal to obtain your license. Once you create an account and log in on the portal, select the Certified Food Protection Manager Application. This will cost $35.
Step 13 - File Your Food Manufacturer Application (Part One)
We’re almost there! To operate in a shared or commercial kitchen facility, every food business must have their food manufacturer application approved.
Part one of this process is filing the application, linked here. You will see that the information required is wide-ranging and in depth, including items like your ingredients lists and production process. Fortunately, the Department of Health published a resource page to help you complete this application. We highly recommend using it!
Of note, you will also need the Certificate of Occupancy from the shared kitchen facility you work in. This signifies that you are associated with the shared facility in which you can safely produce your product. As you’ll see in the application, you’ll also need to send the completed application to the management of your shared kitchen facility for their signature.
This application will be submitted through the same online portal you submitted your Food Safety Manager License.
Step 14 - Schedule and Complete Your Inspection with DC Department of Health (Part Two)
Part two of your food manufacturer application, once the paperwork has been approved, is scheduling your inspection with the Department of Health (DOH). We recommend coordinating this with the management of your shared kitchen facility so they can help facilitate and answer any facility specific questions.
During this inspection, you will sit down with the DOH inspector to talk through your production process and walk through the shared kitchen facility. The DOH inspector is checking to make sure your processes and the facility are up to local food safety code.
Step 15 - File Your Basic Business License Form
It’s finally here! The last step is obtaining your Basic Business License. As you will see, the BBL EZ-Form requires portions of each step above to complete, including the health inspection report you received from the DOH inspector during their visit.
Food business requires extra licensing steps to make sure food producers are selling products that are food safe. This also means that the process can be long and challenging. To make the process as straightforward as possible, follow the steps above in the order they are presented! Each step builds off of the previous ones. Going out of order will create more work for you.
We also recognize that the fees associated with each step are difficult to follow. To assist on this front, visit the DLCP Business Licensing Division .